Morrison Cohen LLP v. Parrish, Supreme Court, New York County, February 9, 2011.
Facts: The Plaintiff law firm filed an action to recover unpaid fees for legal services allegedly performed for the benefit of Defendant Parrish. Parrish argued that plaintiff seeks fees that were not authorized, fees that were excluded from plaintiffs proposed "litigation plan," fees "for activities not required nor requested," and that plaintiff engaged in unnecessary discovery which "generated well over half of what Plaintiff has billed." Defendant argues that the "activities covered by the fees sought by Morrison Cohen constitute negligence," and that he is entitled to a hearing to determine whether the fees "constitute fraud."
Issues: Did the Defendant have any valid affirmative defenses to Plaintiff’s claim for unpaid legal fees?
First, the Court held that Parrish did not have a bona fide defense or counterclaim for legal malpractice, since New York’s three year statute of limitations for that claim had run. The Court further provided:
The law is well settled that to defeat a motion for summary judgment on an account stated cause of action for legal fees, defendant client must make a sufficient evidentiary showing that he objected within a reasonable time to the invoices he received from plaintiff, and self-serving, bald, conclusory and unsubstantiated allegations of oral protests or objections do not satisfy this standard…As the court previously determined, defendant’s conclusory and unsubstantiated allegations that he objected to and complained about plaintiffs services and fees, are insufficient to raise a triable issue as to whether he in fact disputed plaintiffs statement of account.
Lesson: Failure to timely raise a malpractice claim or object to an attorney’s billing practices, preferably in writing, may bar the client’s right to defend against a later action for unpaid legal fees in New York.